For two decades I designed compensation and performance management systems for large and medium companies. I always had this nagging thought that after two or three years the system had run its course. Those who wanted to do so had figured out the game and turned what was intended to be a fair system into their own playground.
Quantitative performance ratings drove me crazy. Leaders would figure out the overall rating they wanted, and then go back and tweak the individual ratings so that they could give the salary increase they wanted to give.
Today, the Wall Street Journal carried an article about how companies are learning to game Glassdoor. Companies like SpaceX, SAP, LinkedIn and Anthem “encouraged” people to leave excellent reviews, causing unusual spikes in their ratings. CEOs questioned about the practice said that the ratings on the site were not representative of their company, so they fixed it.
I see a pattern here – those systems that are intended to provide helpful and unbiased data can be “gamed.”
The other nagging thought I had back when I designed compensation plans was that plan sponsors wanted to substitute a system for daily leadership. How do we make sure the tellers are upselling? Put in an incentive plan. Are tellers balancing? Put it in the incentive plan. Are they being nice…? You’ve got the idea. The plan becomes so complicated that two staff analysts are engaged to “track and manage” it. The branch manager doesn’t understand it and spends more time explaining the plan than correcting behaviors.
I see another pattern here – there seems to be more value placed on systems to manage behavior than on leadership observation, coaching, and feedback.
Systems are critical in an organization. They lay boundaries, communicate values, encourage appropriate behavior while discouraging behavior that is contrary to the mission. They are not, however, a substitute for leadership. The timely and effective use of organizational systems should be a competency for which leaders are held accountable.
How can an organization build accountability into their systems so that the data and results are intentional and not “gamed?” Here are four ways to get started. (more…)